We have all heard that patience is a virtue, but as virtues go, this one is clearly somewhere toward the bottom of the popularity list.  Heb 6:12 says that we are “to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That passage goes on to explain how Abraham was a great example of someone who was given a wonderful promise from the Lord but then had to endure many years of waiting before that promise began to be realized.  Paul tells us in Romans 1 that Abraham’s faith “did not waiver.” But we know that his patience, in fact, did.   The result was the birth of Ishmael.

Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of one of the driest and most difficult seasons of my life as a believer.  After serving as a pastor for a number of years, I was suddenly without a church, without a job, and facing imminent financial bankruptcy.   In the blink of an eye, I had somehow gone from being a “somebody” with a position of influence and authority, to being a “nobody” with seemingly very little to show for all I had been and done with my life.  I was depressed, and most certainly disillusioned by my sorry state of affairs.  And to make matters worse, just a few months earlier my wife and I had a very dramatic encounter with the Lord where he supernaturally spoke beautiful words of promise and future blessing over us.  But this experience was quickly followed by an extended season of testing and trial.  And no matter how much I complained, no matter how passionately I beseeched Him to pull me out of the situational mess I was in, nothing seemed to change.  Unlike some of the testimonies we have all heard, the Lord did not send someone to my door with a big check, a new car, and a lucrative job offer.  Instead of making me feel better, instead of taking some of the situational pressure off, He just got quiet, real quiet.  The Lord was making me wait, and it was killing me.

As a believer, we get to chose how we will respond when the Lord’s promises are not coming to fruition at the pace we had first hoped.  And I have noticed that it is not uncommon for us to try to force His blessings prematurely through the arm of the flesh if our waiting period lingers on for a while.  This is precisely what I did.  Rather than remaining patient and allowing the Lord to develop my faith and perseverance, I began to try to alleviate some of my pain and suffering by “blessing” myself.   For me this came in the form of a 1964 Harley Davidson Sporster.  Granted, I can see why Abraham chose a pretty young maidservant, but there is just something about an old Harley.  And as they say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”  Even though I had been riding motorcycles for a long time, I had yet to own a Harley.  So finding one for sale, glimmering so beautifully there on the side of the road, and at such a great price!  How could I possibly pass up this opportunity?  It must be God.  At least that is the logic I used as I tried to convince my wife what a wise purchase I was about to make.  Now in reality, this bike was just shy of what Harley riders call a “basket case.”  In other words, all the parts were there, but that was about the extent of it.  Still, as far as I was concerned… well let’s just say that love really can cover a multitude of sins.

So I began the process of restoring this lost treasure that I had discovered just waiting for me there in front of the tattoo parlor.  What a find, a genuine vintage chopper with a sissy bar and a flame job.  I was in heaven, or so I thought.  As the expenses piled up and the repair list seemed to grow exponentially, I began to wonder if my labor of love was such a good idea after all.  In fact, it did not take long to figure out that I was spending more time trying to get this thing to run than I was actually riding it.  Keep in mind, this motorcycle came with only a kick starter.  For you non-riders, that means it did not have one of those little red buttons you push to make your motorcycle roar to life.   That was a luxury I only later found out was virtually impossible to install on this particular model.   So instead, I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and sweated, and kicked some more, and cussed, and then kicked some more, but often to no avail.  My beloved Harley, that not so long ago had been the obvious solution to all my problems, had now become my cold blooded arch enemy.  And worst of all, all that kicking and thrashing resulted in my having to go through several very painful hernia surgeries.

After months of recovery, I stood there one sunny spring morning looking down on my once beloved motorcycle and debated if a quick ride was really worth what it might cost me.   In that moment, I clearly heard the Lord say, “this is an Ishmael for you.”  I knew exactly what He meant.  Like Abraham, who tried to forcethe Lord’s blessing rather than waiting for it, in my impatience I too had inadvertently caused myself a boat load of pain and hardship.  I was way beyond having a little buyer’s remorse, this motorcycle was literally making me miserable.  In Genesis 16 we are told that even the name Ishmael means “misery.” Fortunately, I was able to sell my Ishmael on E-bay to a big hairy biker from West Virginia.   And I am trusting that one day my Isaac will arrive.  A new Road King would be nice Lord.

The lesson learned is this.  Our heavenly Father most certainly wants to bless His children.  His plans really are to prosper us and not to harm us.  But because only He can see our future with complete clarity, we have to learn to trust that He also must know the best way for us to get there.  He literally has all the time in the world to accomplish His will.  Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever we are in a hurry to get where we are headed, we will often end up somewhere we do not want to be.  In contrast, in Proverbs 10:22we are told by King Solomon that“The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. What a concept.   When we wait patiently on the Lord, and we allow Him to bless us, no striving, no pain, no trouble will be added.  That is the kind of favor I am looking for these days, a blessing that is initiated and sustained by God with no additional maintenance required.  Lord Jesus, help us never to doubt the words of blessing you have spoken over us.  We submit ourselves once again to your will and to your perfect timing.

In Part 1  of The Good Life, I briefly shared about a couple of the lessons learned during a five year period of my life in which God seemed to be a million miles away.  After functioning for many years with what I thought was a relatively significant sphere of influence, my faith journey suddenly took an abrupt turn down a treacherous road that led me to a very dry place on the backside of nowhere.   Like most American males, my identity was closely tied to my job and my perceived status in the proverbial pecking order.  I went from overseeing a gifted ministry staff and weekly having the attention and esteem of hundreds of people, to being the lowest man on the totem pole in a dead end job.   Any inflated impressions I may have once had of my self quickly became little more than a distant memory.  Now that I was no longer “The Pastor” I began to question my place in the world and what purpose my life might have apart from my calling and ministry abilities.  More importantly, what value was I to the Lord if I could not even hold onto the position of “full-time” Christian servant?  The answer to that question came as a result of an elongated wrestling match with God that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  But hopefully, by learning from my boneheaded stubbornness, you can fore go a few of the painful face plants and mat burns that accompany any form of confrontation with an omnipotent being.

OK, so you don’t feel like you’re fulfilling what you know the Lord has called you to do.  Or maybe he’s made promises to you about your future that don’t seem to be getting any closer to being realized.  Perhaps  you’re currently experiencing an unprecedented level of  situational difficulty.  Money problems?  Broken relationship?  Shattered dreams?  Poor health?  For the overcoming Christian, it all eventually leads to the same outcome…  an unconditional surrender of our will, followed by a decision to trust in the kind and gentle nature of our Heavenly Father.  One of the most crucial truths I learned in the wilderness is this; never put your hope in an outcome, instead, put your hope in the Lord. We often hear the fist half of Proverbs 13:12 quoted; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  But that’s not the end of the verse.  It continues with “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  If we find ourselves sick at heart, it might be because our hope has been misplaced.  Real life begins, and our deepest longings are fulfilled when we can authentically breathe the ultimate prayer of surrender, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Please trust me on this my friend, God will do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants to do it.   In fact, if experience has taught me anything, the what, when, and how of God’s plan for us often ends up looking completely different from what we might have envisioned or hoped for at first.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isa 55:9) If we can’t be happy unless God does what we want him to, or we somehow withhold our affection unless he does it the way we think he should, then we might as well prepare ourselves for an extended stay in the Heartbreak Hotel because we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.  Simply put, man plans and God laughs.  We might as well get used to it because that’s not gonna change.  Lordship ultimately requires us to give even the good things he’s given us (words, promises, dreams, callings) back to him.  God allows in his wisdom what he could easily prevent by his power.

Now here’s the good news.  Those promises we have from the Lord don’t lose any of their potency or potential with the passing of time.  I don’t care how long it’s been, he will do what he said he would do.  He is completely faithful to his word and worthy of any amount of blind trust we can muster.  Our job is to live in obedience one day at a time.  Each day God will give us the grace to do what he asks us to do.  If we ever find ourselves being anxious about our future, then in essence we’re trying to borrow from tomorrow’s grace.  Learning to live by faith is a lot like collecting manna.  If you try to get enough both for today and tomorrow you’ll end up with something rotten.  “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

After a long wander through the desert, I am slowly learning to enjoy my life in whatever form it takes.  Many times this begins with little more than a quick acknowledgement of the Lord’s goodness.  Sometimes it’s more of a conscious decision to be grateful.  All in all, the quality of our life has everything to do with our demeanor toward God. If we stay mad at him, or question his goodness for too long, we’ll find our selves stuck in the dry places. When we choose to believe that he loves us and wants nothing more than to bless us, then the good things he has for us begin to flow again.  Truth be known, my situation hasn’t changed all that much since I entered the wilderness.  I’m still working the same job for the same pay.  My sphere of influence and ministry remains small in comparison to what it used to be.  I’m not really in a place where I can do some of the things I know I’ll eventually get to do for the kingdom, but for the first time in my life, I’m starting to find peace and fulfillment in a way I’ve never experienced.  Little by little, I’ve been getting the revelation that I don’t really have to do or be anything to earn the Lord’s approval or affection.  I’m his beloved son and he likes me just the way I am.  I like to hunt, collect stuff, hang out with friends and eat really good food.  That’s the way God made me… and that’s enough.

Lord please help us to submit to your will for our lives.  Please forgive us for holding back our affection when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.  You are so kind and patient with us.  Help us to keep our eyes on you and on all the good things you have given us to enjoy.  Forgive us for comparing ourselves to others and help us to accept who you have made us to be.  You are good and your mercies endure forever.  Amen

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